LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – On Wednesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson declared April 13 as "Arkansas Community Reentry Day."
Reentry is a word Arkansans hear more and more as the state continues to address its prison overcrowding and recidivism issues. Wednesday was a chance for reentry advocates to take their message to the State Capitol.
The state of Arkansas has the fastest growing prison population in the country, according to a recent report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Once released from prison, those felons face a whole new set of challenges when it comes to re-entering society.
“Doors are getting slammed in my face left and right, but you know what? I’m not giving up, and I’m continuing on with my education even though I still haven’t gotten to use my B.A. degree, which I would love to use,” said Kimberly Rogers, a reentry advocate who spent four years in prison for drug related offenses. "I'm a number still, nobody will give me a chance because the minute I say that I'm a convicted felon it doesn't matter that they're 15 years old, it's out the door."
"I know what I went through, I know how I suffered, so I want to help those who don't know how to go through this walk,” said Ruby Welch, who shared a cell with Rogers in prison and now works helping others find housing, healthcare, and jobs when they get out. "I'm just excited that the Governor has decided we need a reentry day because it's like saying 'we accept you back home'."
"We want to remove the legal roadblocks that returning citizens face,” said speaker Mike Willbanks who helps run Life After Prison Ministries, a statewide program designed to help parolees succeed in society after their release.
Willbanks said when the Governor acknowledges the need for a statewide reentry day it gives him, and others, hope.
"Hope for returning citizens,” added Willbanks. “Hope for the state's families that demand safety on their streets, hope for the lawmakers who have run out of solutions, hope for the taxpayers who are running out of money and hope for my children and yours: that they don't have to stand here ten years from now screaming the same thing."